BY ELENA STOWELL
‘Tis the season for tidings of great joy!
Last week, a truly inspirational athlete and human being with HEART received his black belt! Those of you on the jiu-jitsu journey know that this milestone is achieved by fewer than 1% of the people who step on the tatame. Consider how much more remarkable the feat is when the athlete lives in Japeri, a struggling municipality of Rio de Janeiro, travels 90 minutes to train, and is a double-arm amputee.
Luciano “Frango” Mariano was three months old when he was badly burned in a fire that resulted in both arms being amputated at the elbow. “I’ve never felt ‘not normal’”, he says with a smile. “I just feel like me.” With the encouragement of neighborhood friends, Luciano tried all of things kids do when navigating childhood – futebol in the street, bike riding, swimming, and jiu-jitsu. “Sure, I got smashed … a lot, but it was fun, and now I can smash people too.” Luciano has never seen himself as limited, just as a guy who needs to do things differently. “On the mat we are all equals. We have different bodies, but jiu-jitsu shows you that one is no better than another. It’s the heart of the fighter that matters.”
Growing up without hands helped Luciano adapt in other ways. His feet are very dexterous. He can zip and unzip his backpack with his feet, grab the edge of your kimono between his toes and pass it behind your back to his other foot (resulting in a sweep), and throws on a wicked triangle. He will twist your sleeve around the end of his arm to create a grip rivaling that of BJJ veterans. “My nickname is Frango. It means chicken. But they called me that because I was a scrawny kid, not because I was afraid of things.” Luciano enjoys competing and trains with team Top Brother under the direction of Mestre Cezar Guimaraes and Professor Paulo Marcio Reis.
In 2014, with the help of Hyperfly, The Carly Stowell Foundation and the Challenged Athlete Foundation, Luciano traveled to the United States for a month to train and compete. Despite not speaking English, his charisma and approachable personality made him a bit of a celebrity in the Pyramid at Long Beach and back home in Rio. He did some television interviews and was featured in books about overcoming adversity. Since that time, Luciano has moved through the ranks, all the while helping others through the sport that has given so much to him. He has a gentle way about him that coaxes shy children onto the mat and gives them the confidence and reassurance that jiu-jitsu will return to them all the energy they put into it and open doors to experiences they never thought possible.
It's said that to be a black belt you must live “the jiu-jitsu lifestyle”, and exemplify the qualities taught by the martial arts, respect, discipline, integrity, honor, loyalty and HEART. Luciano “Frango” Mariano, congratulations on your well-deserved promotion. We look forward to being a part of your future on the mats and in life.